LAHORE: Hina Cyprian, 26, is an administrator at the Lahore School of Economics. Every afternoon, she and some of her fellow non-Muslim colleagues are confronted with the dilemma of where to eat lunch.
“This year has been particularly hard,” she says. “Coffee Tea and Company only sells bakery items prior to iftar. Espresso is the only place in the area offering takeaway for lunch and breakfast. It was different last year. The canteens and the bakeries were open.
Cyprian says that restaurants should be allowed to serve non-Muslims and foreigners lunch during Ramazan. “People should be accepting and respectful of those who do not fast, be it a personal choice or for religious reasons,” she says.
Sections three and four of the Ihteram-i-Ramazan Ordinance of 1981 bar Muslims from eating in public and prohibit restaurants from serving food to Muslims during the day in the holy month. A violator can be jailed for up to three months and/or fined Rs500. But the law is not applicable to minorities or foreigners.
For many restaurants, staying open during the day in Ramazan is simply unviable economically because they get few customers. Some, such as Luciano’s in Gulberg, close all the way through Ramazan because of the slow business.
Managers at two restaurants said that they feared protests if they were to open during the fast. “If we start serving lunch or breakfast, it might create problems,” said a manager at Coffee, Tea and Company.
“It could incite some form of protest and that would be very harmful to the restaurant,” said Fayyaz, a restaurant manager, on the condition that the name of the restaurant would remain anonymous.
Hotel restaurants remain open during Ramazan as they mostly serve travellers and foreigners. “We usually get a few foreigners in for lunch,” said Farooq, who manages Marco Polo in the Pearl Continental. “Any locals that come are usually accompanying foreigners.”’
The manager of Kims at the Avari said they get few customers for lunch in Ramazan. “Most of our lunch customers are corporate clients, but during Ramazan they just meet in meeting rooms,” he said.
According to the 1998 census, minorities make up for 10 per cent of Lahore’s population.
Shahid Miraaj, a priest at the Cathedral Church, said the lack of restaurants open at lunchtime was not a big concern. “It is more important for us to be respectful of other religions,” he said.
Minorities’ rights activist Peter Jacobs said minorities had far more pressing concerns such as forced conversion, blasphemy accusations and target killings but he felt the Ihteram-i-Ramazan Ordinance was outdated.
“It cripples the socio-cultural life of those not fasting and the minorities. Personal independence should not be determined by a 20-year-old ordinance,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2011.